Backstory for Grantaire?

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Rebus
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Backstory for Grantaire?

Postby Rebus » Mon May 27, 2013 11:36 pm

Working on building up all the backstory for my Grantaire fic. I want to stay as far from fanon as possible, but I do have him attending the Lycée de Marseille with a three years younger Enjolras from 1816-1819, though they'd have had extremely limited contact to one another.

Have him then going off to Paris at 16 to attend university for law, which of course was of no interest to him and which he was quite pleased to have been expelled from in 1821 when the university came under clerical control. The point of that brief experience is to set the stage for an array of failures and disappointments marking his new life in Paris and to bring him into contact with Bahorel, who invites him drinking after witnessing Grantaire literally being thrown from the school.

Later on in that year I have him taking on the apprenticeship under Gros, from the ages of 18-20, but I'm not sure if this is too old? I read somewhere on a French site that apprenticeships began between the ages of 14 and 25, but maybe I read it wrong? His expulsion from Gros' atelier would follow in 1824, several months after he finally meets Enjolras and a group of students including Courfeyrac, Joly and Bossuet through Bahorel, after getting accidentally caught up in a riot and swept along on the search for refuge to the backroom of the Café Musain. Is it probable that a fledgling, pre-revolutionary group of students to be meeting there at that time? Enjolras would not yet have been a leader, at only 17, but in the following two or so years I could see himself establishing his place, which would be solidified with the arrival of Combeferre, Feuilly and Jean-Prouvaire during that time.

I have this head canon of Grantaire being the youngest of 8 children (six girls, one older brother) and having been chosen from them by his wealthy maternal uncle, who is estranged from the family and wanted an heir that is generally considered as useless as he is. This uncle basically gives him a modest allowance upon which to live, enabling him to spend the years of 1824-1832 jobless and regularly drunk.

I am generally unsure about the early contact between Grantaire and Enjolras. It is possible that Grantaire would barely be aware of it, as my idea was that Enjolras witnesses him being punished one afternoon and made a fool of afterwards by his classmates, and Enjolras steps in in his defence (resulting in later trouble for Enjolras). I think he'd have been so humiliated that he would hardly pay attention to Enjolras and the recollection might return years later, and the childish, mortal side to Enjolras would have resented the trouble he got for helping a thankless Grantaire. I just don't know how IC this is, and I also want to stay as far away from gratuity or tragedy his history, because I feel more like he's just a product of a lifetime of being a disappointment to everyone (himself included) and has been enabled by his uncle's allowance to wallow in this to the point of utterly destroying any shard of hope that he could still make something of himself.

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Aurelia Combeferre
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Re: Backstory for Grantaire?

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Tue May 28, 2013 4:49 am

I am not sure about the biographical details, but I like the part about meeting the students. It would be quite good to see in print.
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Re: Backstory for Grantaire?

Postby Rachel » Tue May 28, 2013 6:07 am

Whoa, yours is great! I'd tell you mine, but I kind of can't since... Wait for it...

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You know, if you're reading/care about my fanfic. Which most of the world doesn't. But I like to pretend that a new chapter is in high demand :P
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Re: Backstory for Grantaire?

Postby Rebus » Tue May 28, 2013 3:40 pm

Thanks. I'm still working out kinks, just wanted to check and see if the dates work and double check on how to keep everything non-fanon and IC.

And, Rachel, I'd love to read your fic, if you've got a link?

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Re: Backstory for Grantaire?

Postby MmeBahorel » Wed May 29, 2013 12:26 am

Only thing that jumps out right now is that it isn't the lycée at this period: the schools were renamed "collèges royaux" at the restoration and that nomenclature stayed through the entire July Monarchy.

If you want to adjust your timeline, 16 was the absolute youngest you could enroll, and enrolling later was v. common - note Marius doesn't enroll until 18. Just pointing out options.

For apprenticing to an artist, some of the famous ones of the period I have details for: Bonington (born 1802) entered Gros' atelier in 1818 but didn't stay long because he hated the structure. Delacroix (born 1798) entered Guérin's atelier in 1815. Delaroche (born 1797) entered Gros' atelier in 1818, but he had first studied landscape with Louis-Etienne Watelet. Achille-Etna Michallon(born 1796) entered Jean-Victor Bertin's atelier in 1812; he was awarded the first Prix de Rome in 1817 (for landscape painting), and began taking students himself in 1822 on his return to Paris. (Corot was one of these students - he was the same age as Michallon but took up painting late.) Paul Huet (born 1803) was with Gros' atelier from 1819-1822, but irregularly (he didn't take to the structure any better than Bonington, apparently, but he kept going in and out - Huet is really a landscape painter). Camille Roqueplan (born 1800) joined Gros' atelier in 1818. Alexandre-Marie Colin (born 1798) began studies with Girodet in 1814. Eugène Lami (born 1800) studied first with Horace Vernet then started in 1817 with Gros. Barye (born 1795) entered the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1818 as a student concurrently of Gros and of the sculptor Joseph Bosio and spent 7 years at the school. [all of these are taken from Crossing the Channel: British and French Painting in the Age of Romanticism, which is the exhibition catalogue for a phenomenal show the Tate put together in 2003. It's like they knew what I wanted/needed for fic research *g*.]

So on average,someone whose parents support an art career would go into an artist's workshop at 16 or maybe 17 and was expected to spend about four years copying under the direction/supervision of the artist. First salon generally came around the age of 20. However, these were far from a rule and Corot may not have been such an outlier among the artistic population; a large number of failures never exhibited or have for many reasons not come down to us because they were never great artists. Since Grantaire possibly was really bad (and almost certainly followed in Bonington-Huet mold of hating the structure), you've got loads of room to work. After all, this catalogue is following the flower of French Romantic painting, the men who built the movement themselves on the backs of their classicist teachers. Gros was notorious for taking anyone as a pupil who could pay, so I suspect older pupils changing careers like Corot were perhaps more common in his studio than in others of a similar fame/vintage.
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Re: Backstory for Grantaire?

Postby Rebus » Wed May 29, 2013 7:34 am

That is magnificent, thank you so much! I was looking all over for information on Gros and his apprentices, but I'm limited to my phone at the moment and google was not being very helpful. I had been meaning to ask, also, what name the lycée would have had! Nothing was very helpful on explaining the choppier gov changes in that period and whether or not the collège name came abou before or after the Restoration gov had a more firm foothold.

I think I want to keep him going off to uni at 16, the earliest possible age, mostly because he wanted an excuse to go very far away from Montauban, and less for ambition's sake. I assume that Grantaire was at one point a fairly intelligent and gifted student. The fact that he can recall so much of what he had learnt years prior in school in the middle of a drunken ramble indicates this. So, I have the feeling he was quite a good if fairly lazy student, or if not lazy, interested in general but unable to hold himself on the rules/structure of formal education.

Following the Corot model and assuming that Grantaire's uncle was willing to fork out to keep him from idling (and because an art career would almost certainly have annoyed Grantaire's maths-fan of a father), I'll keep that he entered the studio at 18 but make sure to work in that many of the others were younger or had started earlier. I almost feel like he would thrive in a studio with other young men who are younger than he was. He seems to enjoy keeping younger company at least mixed with older company (a fair portion of the students) and is so stunted maturity-wise, it works well for him.

My next question, and one I really really really wanted to ask because I just cannot make up my mind - opinions on Grantaire's artistic talent? In my mind, I picture him to have been something of a young John Lennon of his time at this age - wishywashy but clever, perhaps clever enough to have at least tried at painting and not completely fail, but possessing of either a lack of that specific spark of talent that makes a decent artist a true artist, or simply so against the structure that he couldn't be arsed and started pilfering apples instead. I can't picture him as having been a spectacular painter. Of painting well enough, yes. Perhaps better than most. I see him as more of a jack-of-all-trades, with talent in many areas but too confused to improve on most of these talents, leaving I'm simply fairly decent at many things but not downright incredible in any of them.

But then, the idea of his being a gifted artist has its perks, as well. It certainly suits him. And I don't mean in a melancholic, can't do anything right, in love with Enjolras how tragically romantic way. But rather, he seems to possess of a dampened and distorted and confused, though highly creative intelligence. He certainly paints with his words, also why not with a brush and colour? The only thing that worries me by going down this road is the risk of falling into a fanon trap of Grantaire as the Van Gogh of the group, cutting of the proverbial ear and drowning it in a pool of absinthe because he was a major talent but failed, because he loves to paint Enjolras but Enjolras does not reciprocate his love or visit his flat etc pp. Not that these themes are specifically fanon, and I've seen them very well-written, but the risk is there and the trap an easy one to fall into if I'm feeling lazy.

And then, why did he speak so derisively of his time under Gros and occupy himself nicking fruit instead of learning, if painting was not just something he took up because he could? Here there are also so many roads to go down. Either, he truly could not be arsed and the apprenticeship is something he just came across and thought, "well, I have nothing better to do." Or he could not stand the structure, or Gros, or anything else and rebelled, which fits him just as well. Or, he actually did paint quite well and did not spend his time the way he claims, but is either so disappointed/bitter about the fact that nothing came of it, or simply cuts himself down from habit and makes claims like that rather than let anyone think he might have a talent. The last one fits my idea of him as well, as he seems to overplay on his faults when he rages, almost as though he simply cannot think of himself una positive light, and in this vein cannot see humanity at all in a positive light which could be a projection of his own feelings for himself or for others in his life, which lead him to make light of himself, to be entertainingly self-deprecating and dismiss anything that he would rather not go into detail about or brag about or seem interesting because of and simply tack on as a safety precaution - "But I did nothing there, just spent a lot of time nicking apples".

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Re: Backstory for Grantaire?

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Wed May 29, 2013 7:42 am

I like that particular thing about Gros. I imagine Grantaire as being a bit more like Warhol in temperament though.
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Re: Backstory for Grantaire?

Postby Rebus » Wed May 29, 2013 9:05 am

I can definitely see how you'd see Warhol in him, or rather how I could see what I know of Warhol in him. I thought John Lennon more because of the cutting humour and the way Lennon changed from enjoying himself during the Beatles to speaking very derisively about his time as a Beatle and what he achieved in the band. Lennon had such a volatile mindset and seemed to change his recollections of former opinions and his memories on how he experienced things according to his present mindset and situation, which I could see Grantaire doing. I.e. having enjoyed actually painting, even if he didn't completely get along with the structure of Gros's studio, but the painting career clearly never took off, so now he never interested himself for it at all and remembers himself asocial and disinterested, which is easier than saying that he's not entirely sure what went wrong and why he never made anything of himself and also much easier than claiming to enjoy/have enjoyed, or to be or have been good at anything ever and risk the others taking the piss or disagreeing with him, or even risk personally accepting that he could have enjoyed or have been good at something. He does the same thing when he claims to be ignorant (and therefore cannot quote anything), which is a bold lie, as he spouts out quite a few quotes and appears to be quite well educated.

Which is a paradoxical behavior on his part, denying any true talents or skills, but pursuing women and behaving as though he were generally in great demand and not ugly. This has become less about Lennon and Warhol though lol. I have to admit too, that I know much less about Warhol than I do Lennon. What in particular do you see of him in Grantaire? I love comparisons.

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Re: Backstory for Grantaire?

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Wed May 29, 2013 10:24 am

I guess I see the same cynicism mixed with some openness to experience, as well as being a master of some sort of wit. Warhol strikes me as a man with a talent that could have been harnessed for the conventional path to success but he chose not to do it. Grantaire is more of a 'waste of potential' but there's that same disdain for the conventional.

It's hard for me to peg down, but when my sister and my cousins (who know more about Warhol than I do) describe his warehouse and other aspects of his life, I can't help but think, "That's Grantaire right there!"
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Re: Backstory for Grantaire?

Postby Rebus » Wed May 29, 2013 11:18 am

Oh, I'll have to read some about Warhol. I only know what I saw of him in Factory Girl, which was fantastic but limited.

You're right, Grantaire has a definite disdain for convention, but it almost seems like it wasn't entirely his choice.

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Re: Backstory for Grantaire?

Postby MmeBahorel » Wed May 29, 2013 11:54 pm

Grantaire almost certainly falls in with Bonington and Huet on hating Gros' atelier.

What happens in an artist's atelier? The apprentices copy. And copy. And copy. They copy at the Louvre. They copy at home. They copy at the workshop. Their copies get picked apart by the artist. They copy some more. Eventually, they might actually get to help fill in the background of a work the artist is preparing for the Salon or for a state commission. And then they copy some more. They copy in pencil, they copy in ink, they copy in oil. They can try out compositions and the artist will pick those apart. They will copy paintings of still lifes for ages before any fruit is set in front of them; they will copy paintings of naked women, then statues of naked women, before they get their first chance with an actual model. Many cheap prints of major works were made to be sold to art students so they could have something to copy at home. Generally, after four years of this, of being immersed the work of the artist running the studio and the stuff on view at the Louvre and maybe the modern art collection at the Luxembourg Palace, they are competent enough to begin entering compositions of their own for the Salon and maybe enter into competition for the Prix de Rome, where the government finances the winners to live in Rome for a few years to do more copying and a lot more original painting because they'll have less supervision.

Bonington and Huet got bored out of their minds very quickly with all this damned copying. Notably, both of them became very important landscape artists. They wanted to be, and needed to be, out in the fields sketching from nature, not copying the crap that passed for landscape painting in previous centuries. (The French conception of landscape painting prior to the huge Romantic flourishing of the genre was for idealised landscapes; the English conception was for recognisable landscapes. It's not to say that the English did not idealise their landscapes but that the whole point was to depict a real place, with all the feelings of a real place. The French were more into entirely fake places.) Gros, a history painter, was patently not the person they should have been learning from, so it's no wonder they ditched out.

However, let us also not forget the politics of the art market in France at this time. This isn't England. In England, private exhibitions and private galleries existed. The market wasn't dictated solely by the annual show put up by the Royal Academy. A man who was not well-liked at the Academy show had other venues to display and sell his work. These other venues did not exist in France at the time. There were art dealers, of course, but they didn't hold public shows of their paintings for sale, meaning one got exposure only to already interested private buyers, not public recognition by name and style which helps develop ones commercial prospects. The men who juried the Salon were, you guessed it, those famous and great artists running major ateliers for students. So the only viable access to the market, which was predominantly the state, was through those patronage ties one developed with the man one apprenticed to, unless one had other connections in the art world or in the government.

So with what we know of Grantaire's personality, I think any talent he had didn't matter a damned bit. He likely screwed himself over, either accidentally or on purpose, just by being himself. I can't imagine he took to anything structured around endless copying, nor can I imagine he'd keep that to himself, and he'd certainly let it affect his prospects for any support of getting a painting into the Salon. (if you have him expelled in 1824, keep in mind the Salon was that autumn - plenty of ways he could get in deep shit with Gros and with everyone who hoped to submit, so this could actually be really fun and exciting.)

A geographic question: if he's from Montauban, why do you have him at school in Marseille? Montauban is essentially on the other side of France and is a major centre in its own right (26,000 in 1825 is a big city). It has a collège communal and feeds into Toulouse, from obvious geography, since I cannot figure out if the collège communal is first or second rank (first rank confers the exact same prep for the bac as a collège royal but without the boarding option; second rank schools don't offer all the necessary courses but one can start there and transfer up to a better school). It also, by 1826, had a school of drawing. [Source: Dictionnaire de la géographie politique et physique de la France et de ses colonies]

If you have a reason for it, fine. It just really jumps out because so much is regional at this period that unless government work sent them there, it seems really, really unlikely that a family in the Tarn-et-Garonne would have anything to do with the Bouches-du-Rhône. If you're going to send a kid away that far, and not to the nearest major centre (in this case, Toulouse), you might as well just send them to Paris unless you have really, really compelling family reasons.
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Re: Backstory for Grantaire?

Postby Rebus » Thu May 30, 2013 12:13 am

Oh, wow! This is tremendously helpful and interesting, thank you!
I am excited now. Will have to go and think up all the ways he could have gotten himself into shit with them and ruined basically his entire career. I've also got wonderful images in my head of him now, being himself and basically impossible in Gros' atelier.

I'm glad you mention the school thing, because to be honest I have absolutely no idea. I just looked up cities where there were boarding schools, because for some reason I wanted it to be a boarding school (my subconscious Harry Potter fanbrain acting up maybe?). I was going to invent some reason that would probably have sounded weak, but I hadn't even given it much thought, to be honest. But that sounds absolutely much better. I had a lot of trouble understanding the school system at that time. Everything I read was very vague, and I couldn't quite work out - beyond the general basics - how it all functioned.

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Re: Backstory for Grantaire?

Postby MmeBahorel » Thu May 30, 2013 12:43 am

Here you go: De l'instruction publique en France: ouvrage utile aux familles. It's from 1842, but it's easier to parse than actually going through the Code universitaire, and Girardin generally signals if something's more recent. Start with De l'instruction publique, then start going through the Code if you want more detail on some element.

Also, I've put all the law faculty basics into English: Faculty of Law during the July Monarchy. A lot of it works back further into the Restoration, but double check the Code Universitaire for dates on when any particular element may have been added, since everything in there is dated.

I'm dumping these at you because you said earlier you had been going through a French website, so I'm assuming you read French. I"m also hoping that these google books links work in Germany, since I know not everything ends up accessible in every country. But these two are my sources on education in the period, and they've been extremely helpful.

It's most likely that R is at school in Toulouse. If you want to start him out at home in the local collège, that's also reasonable, but he'll definitely be finishing in Toulouse to guarantee he can sit his bac, since he's to go to Paris for tertiary education. The bac isn't 100% necessary at that date, if I read everything right, but I'd still suggest that he sit it and pass. He'll be screwing up everything else soon enough, and he has a bac-level education, obviously, so he might as well sit it.

If you have any questions, please ask. Backstory is what I do - class, education, and geographical issues are kind of my areas of expertise in fandom because I've spent so much time looking at that stuff for what I write. I'm glad to share sources and provide pointers any way I can.
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Re: Backstory for Grantaire?

Postby Rebus » Fri May 31, 2013 7:40 am

I really appreciate this, thank you! I'm quite new to Les mis fanfiction, so it's daunting trying to middle through what is probably one of the most volatile times in recent Western European history. In school we focus mainly only on Germany during this time (which had some surprisingly similar problems and student culture, though markedly less violent), so this is like re-learning history and all as quickly and as thoroughly as possible - it's making my head spin!

I can't wait to have a look at those links once I'm home and not a phone, and yes I can read French. Thanks so much!

Another question, was the school in Toulouse a boarding school, or would he have to have gone home every evening? And do you know anything about how that would have been achieved with students who live too far to travel on foot every day, if they would have stayed with a host family or something?

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Re: Backstory for Grantaire?

Postby MmeBahorel » Sat Jun 01, 2013 4:11 pm

There were day students and boarding students at all the collèges royaux. He'd be a boarding student unless there were strong family connections in Toulouse that made it practical for him to be a day student - cousins of the same age who were going as day students, most likely, with an offer from their family that he could stay with them. But it's much more likely that he's boarding. The Girardin gives fee differences, uniform differences, and packing lists for boarding and day students which can be confirmed through the Code Universitaire as to when some of that went into effect.

Honestly, with this fandom, I'm willing to take any detail post 1815 and prior to 1848 as a reasonable approximation when it comes to daily life kinds of things like this. It's hard to really dig this stuff out, and Hugo was not particularly accurate himself on a bunch of things, so there's some wiggle room on absolute accuracy.

For novels, Pere Goriot and The Red and the Black are both useful on the student front. The main character in Goriot is a law student of excellent but broke family, living in a boarding house and skipping class more than he knows he should, and the main character in The Red and the Black is a working-class boy with some education who is first taken into a bourgeois household as tutor, then attempts going to seminary, neither of which are at all a good idea because he is a terrible person, as is everyone around him, and the whole thing is a series of "This is a really bad idea". But there's some useful info to be gleaned about primary education, the seminary system, and patronage systems during the Restoration as well as the lingering Napoleonic class jumping issues.
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard


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